December 28, 2010

Birth of Catharine Maria Sedgwick


Catharine Maria Sedgwick was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts on December 28, 1789. She became a popular writer, particularly through her novel Hope Leslie (1827). In a letter describing her childhood recollections, Sedgwick recounted the story of her birth:

I was born... in 1789, December 28th, in a bitter cold night, as I have heard my Aunt Dwight say, who was present on the occasion... I came into the world two months before I was due... I believe... that the people who surround us in our childhood, whose atmosphere infolds us, as it were, have more do with the formation of our characters than all our didactic and preceptive education.

In her novels, Sedgwick often depicted America in its infancy. Her novel The Linwoods (1835), for example, was set during the American Revolution. She also tackled more serious topics, including the ideal relationship between servants and employees. After a few years without publishing, Sedgwick released Married or Single? in 1857. In that book, Sedgwick (who never married) dared to suggest that women should avoid marriage if it would mean a loss of self-respect. She quoted St. Paul: "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide."

Reviews were mixed. The Albion, for example, claimed that "the tale was designed to plead the case of Spinster-hood. If this were so, the cause is not well pleaded: in fact this object is well-nigh lost sight of." Though Sedgwick presented several examples of "emptiness and wretchedness" in poor marriages, the reviewer wrote, not one example of a happy single woman was presented to show its benefit. On the other hand, a critic in the Ladies Repository called it, "the most thoroughly American, and the most real book I have read in a long while."

*Recommended reading: Catharine Maria Sedgwick: Critical Perspectives, edited by Victoria Clements.

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